Adding a second monitor to your computer is the best thing you can do to speed up your workflow

Tips & Techniques

An efficient workflow is the most valuable tool in a photographer’s or filmmaker’s arsenal – probably more so than the cameras we shoot with. These days, that workflow largely relies on a computer. And for me, workflow efficiency means using a computer with multiple displays.

A company called INNOCN recently reached out to ask if I’d like to try out their new PF-15 Pro 15.6″ 100% sRGB IPS touchscreen slim monitor. The on-paper specs looked great, but is it worth the money? I wanted to find out, so I agreed to check it out and I’ve been testing it out for a couple of weeks now. Here’s what I think.

Why get a USB monitor?

Like most photographers, I’m spoiled when working on my desktop at home because I have three monitors and a projector plugged into it. I typically work on two of the monitors and the third (which is a technically Huion Kamvas tablet) is there just for random things (when it’s not being used as an actual tablet), like holding notes, browser tabs I don’t want to lose, etc. The projector is for watching YouTube or movies and to act as a large full-screen preview view when editing videos in DaVinci Resolve.

I’ve been working with multiple monitors for so long (ever since Microsoft added support for it in Windows 98) that when I get onto a computer with just a single standard 16:9 (or 16:10) display, I feel quite closed in and claustrophobic. My workflow efficiency just goes to hell because I don’t have the desktop space to lay things out in a way that makes everything easy for me to see all at once. It’s one of the things that puts me off working on my laptop unless I absolutely have to – like when I travel.

A couple of years ago, I discovered that portable monitors are a thing. Standalone displays that are about the same size as the laptop, only thinner (because they don’t have to carry the keyboard, motherboard, sound system, HDDs or SSDs, and all the rest of it) and can be powered from the computer they’re plugged into. Whether you’re on a desktop or a laptop, though, I’ll always believe that the best thing any kind of creative can do to improve and speed up their workflow is to add a second display to their system, whether it’s a desktop or a laptop.

For writing here on DIYP, it’s fantastic to be able to have all my source and reference material up on a second display while I compose my post on the main monitor. For photography, I can have Photoshop up on my main screen with Bridge on the second to easily drag images into it. Even if I’m just using Photoshop, I don’t have to hide the tools with the F or tab keys, I can just drag all my palettes onto the second monitor. And for video editing, I can fill up the full width of my monitor with the timeline, have a couple of decent sized viewing areas for clips and my final edit and have all of my footage bins and other bits off on the second screen (and even use a third monitor for a full-screen playback monitor).

Having DaVinci Resolve spread across a pair of monitors makes it much easier to navigate quickly!

And once you start to work with multiple displays and get used to it, it’s virtually impossible to go back to a single monitor. Could the INNOCN PF-15 Pro be the second monitor for your needs? Well, keep reading and you can figure that out for yourself.

The basics and first impressions

The ideal size for me on a laptop screen is 15.6″. That makes it big enough to be able to see what I’m doing but small enough that it’ll fit into the laptop slot of most bags when I want to go portable. All camera bags seem to have a laptop pouch these days. My Lowepro, Cosyspeed and Manfrotto backpacks all have one, as does my Lowepro roller case. So I’ve got plenty of dedicated space to put a laptop (or a similarly sized monitor) when I travel.

To be clear, you probably won’t be able to fit both your laptop and a display into the same laptop slot, but if you’ve got 2 bags with laptop slots, you can put one in each (which is what I do). So, being a 15.6″ display, the INNOCN PF-15 Pro fits the bill perfectly.

My go-to travel combo, the Lowepro PhotoStream SP 200 and Manfrotto Advanced 2 Hybrid Backpack. Each has a slot for a laptop (or USB monitor).

As with most displays at this size, it’s 1080p. Both of my 15.6″ laptops  (ASUS ZenBook Pro and ASUS VivoBook Pro) are also 1080p as is the ASUS MB169C+ USB monitor I bought myself as a birthday treat a couple of years ago. The MB169C+ is nice, but it has a couple of limitations, that the INNOCN overcomes.

One of the big advantages the INNOCN screen has over both of my laptops and my ASUS USB monitor is that it’s a touchscreen display, which we’ll get into a little more later. It’s also an IPS display with 100% sRGB colour gamut coverage and a 178° viewing angle.  This makes it fantastic for use with a laptop, particularly for photography and video, where you’re working from different locations all the time and aren’t always going to have control over the height and position of your screen relative to your eyes to get the optimum viewing angle. A decent IPS display should look great in most conditions at all kinds of angles.

The INNOCN lists “gaming” as one of the uses for the screen, but this isn’t a screen for hardcore gamers as it’s limited to a 60Hz refresh rate. But that’s just fine for photographers and filmmakers. We don’t really need to consume content at 200fps. Even for those of us that shoot video at 120fps and faster, we’re almost never creating projects at those frame rates. We’re slowing down that footage to go on a 24/25/30fps timeline (usually), which a 60Hz display is more than capable of displaying.

There is a speaker on each side of the display with matching holes in the case to allow the sound out.

The monitor sports a pair of built-in stereo speakers (something else the MB169C+ doesn’t have). If this is something you need, then they’re there and they don’t sound too bad. Perfectly fine for watching movies or listening to the general noises made by PCs when fumbling through software. For me, though, when I’m working on a laptop, it’s usually when I’m away from home. It’s on a train or in a press room at a trade show, so I’m usually using headphones so as to not bother other people – these days, that’s typically the Sennheiser HD25 headphones or my OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 Bluetooth earphones.

It also comes with a case that doubles up as a stand. It wraps around the screen nicely, resembling an iPad case. Only bigger. As a stand, it works well and keeps the screen at a nice viewing angle, if it’s low down on the desk below you – which is pretty common when editing in hotel rooms.

What immediately surprised me about this monitor on powering it up for the first time, though, was just how closely it matched the display in my ASUS ZenBook Pro. Both displays are 15.6″ 100% sRGB IPS displays, but they’re probably not the exact same 15.6″ 100% sRGB IPS display. But on plugging the INNOCN PF-15 Pro into the Type-C socket of the laptop, when the display came up and mirrored my main display, both were almost identical once I’d matched the brightness levels.

Seeing them side-by-side from the perspective of a camera, especially when the two screens are at slightly different angles, does show some subtle differences, but in person, to my eye, there’s almost no noticeable difference. The display on the ASUS ZenBook Pro is a hair more saturated, but I can easily bump that up to match on the INNOCN PF-15 Pro. And this is without even calibrating them. They’re both just using the standard Windows colour.

Connectivity

Another big advantage the INNOCN PF-15 Pro has over my ASUS MB169C+ is the connectivity options. The MB169C+ only has a single Type-C socket that does everything using DP Alt Mode. Power, video, everything. And if you only ever want to hook it up to a laptop that supports DP Alt Mode then that’s great, but if you want to connect it to regular HDMI devices or computers that don’t support it, then not so much.

The INNOCN PF-15 also supports DP Alt Mode, letting you connect the display to your laptop (or smartphone), supplying both power and video as well as sending back touch signals to your computer’s operating system over a single Type-C USB cable – if your laptop or desktop has a compatible DP Alt Mode port. But it also has a second Type-C USB socket and an Mini HDMI socket, too.

This means that for PCs that don’t support DP Alt Mode, you can still send power into one Type-C socket from and use the second Type-C socket for touchscreen communication with your computer. The HDMI socket is used to send a standard HDMI video signal. This is how I’ve been using the INNOCN PF-15 Pro on my desktop recently (desktop doesn’t support DP Alt Mode) as one of my desktop monitors died recently and I’ve been waiting for Black Friday to see what deals pop up for a replacement.

The HDMI port also means that I can hook it up to other devices that have a 16:9 HDMI output, too. I can use it as a dedicated output monitor for the Feelworld LivePro L1 V1 video switcher when I’m live streaming, for example.

Or, I can connect it to the HDMI output of a DSLR or mirrorless camera when I want a larger display than a 5″ or even 7″ field monitor can provide. This can be very handy if you’re filming yourself and your camera is a slight distance away from you.

Power

When it comes to power, the INNOCN PF-15 Pro has one very nice feature. It has a built-in 5,000mAh battery that boasts up to 4 hours of continuous use without having to take power from an external source. The observant ones amongst you might notice that in the photo above with the display connected to the Feelworld LivePro L1 V1, the only cable I had plugged in was the HDMI cable. This is because the display was running off its own internal battery.

As mentioned above, though, there is also a separate USB power socket so that if you want to run for longer, you can plug power into either a USB charger, a suitable USB/Thunderbolt port on your laptop or a USB power bank. And you can charge it separately even while you’re using it.

While it’s obviously going to add a little to the weight vs a display that doesn’t feature a built-in battery, it’s really not that noticeable in the real world (at least not against my MB169C+). And a built-in battery in a monitor like this is great for me. It means that when I’m using it, it’s using its own power source and not draining the power from the laptop – or the smartphone.

Yes, that’s right. You can hook these up to Android smartphones, and it’s quite a handy feature – especially if you carry your portfolio around on your phone but want to show a potential client on a larger screen. When you’re powering the screen from the phone’s battery, though, as I have to with the ASUS MB169C+, it can suck that juice real quick! With the INNOCN PF-15 Pro having a built-in 5,000mAh battery, your phone only needs to worry about its own power.

Having two USB sockets on the side of the monitor so that I can plug my phone into one and a USB power bank into the other means you can keep things going for much longer. And if you are using it with a smartphone, you can charge both the monitor and the smartphone from the same power bank to make sure things don’t die in the middle of whatever you’re doing. Or you can go indefinitely if you’re powering it from a USB charger plugged into the wall.

Touch capabilities

When it comes to the touch capabilities of the INNOCN PF-15 Pro, it supports 10-point multitouch and it works very well – easily as well as any high-end smartphone I’ve ever used. And speaking of smartphones, if you plug this thing into a smartphone to use as an external display, the touch capabilities will also pass through depending on the phone you’re using. It won’t work with them all.

It will send the display out from my OnePlus 7 Pro to the screen, mirroring on what’s on my phone’s display, but the touchscreen capabilities of the monitor do not pass back to that particular phone. So, your mileage will vary. Assume you won’t get touchscreen use when you’ve got this screen plugged into a phone and just be pleasantly surprised when it works. With a Windows desktop or laptop, though, it handles very well.

I’m still relatively new to touch UIs on Windows, but it works as well as I’ve come to expect. Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer a mouse for general use on a PC with the exception of something like a Wacom or Huion tablet where I have a pen I can hold in my hand for accurate poking of the screen.

So, it would be nice if there were a good pen option to go along with this monitor that’s a bit more precise than a finger for when using applications like Photoshop. Especially as this capability is now coming to devices that started off with a regular finger touch UI, like the iPad.

Whether or not a pen is an accessory that INNOCN might be able to provide at some point, I don’t know, but it would definitely be something that would attract me to a monitor like this in the future. For now, though, I’m still happy enough with its touch capabilities, given how little I really need them.

At this point, it’s most definitely worth noting, that the monitor’s configuration interface also utilises the touchscreen capabilities natively, even if you’re not using the touchscreen features on your computer or mobile. This means you get full touch configuration for on the on-screen display. No longer do you have to try to remember which cryptic button press combinations get you to this setting or that without accidentally resetting everything. Just tap the screen and you’re good to go. This makes configuring the monitor and changing settings an absolute dream!

Overall thoughts

I’ve been using the display almost daily for around a month now. At first, it was with my laptop to put it through its paces and see how well it handled.

But as I mentioned above, for the last couple of weeks, it’s replaced one of my desktop monitors that has died. It’s clear, bright and easily viewable on my desk – even when I have the lights on or the sun streaming through my window.

I don’t need crazy fast gaming performance from a monitor, so the 60hz refresh rate on this suits me perfectly. It handles footage at 24/25/30/48/50/60fps just fine and for editing stills, refresh rate isn’t really an issue.

Every one of my normal tasks from writing posts like this to editing photos in Photoshop, video editing in DaVinci Resolve, playing with 3D stuff in Blender or anything else has performed as well as I’ve come to expect from any of my other monitors.

Overall, it’s rather impressive. The colour output and brightness I see when it’s plugged into my laptop are pretty much identical to that of my ASUS MB169C+, except that this has touchscreen abilities as well as more input and power options. There is a bit of a price difference between the two (Note: there is a discount code at the bottom of this review), but in my experience, I think the extra features and versatility of the INNOCN PF-15 Pro is worth paying the extra.

Since I started using this, I haven’t had the desire to grab my ASUS MB169C+ once and I haven’t missed it. This screen looks easily as good as the ASUS, but this has extra stuff.

Conclusions

When it comes to the general pros and cons, everything is largely quite favourable. It’s a 15.6″ 100% sRGB 1080p IPS display, so it’s large enough to be able to see (from any reasonable viewing angle) what you’re doing but small enough that it fits in the laptop slot of every bag I’ve tried so far.

It features a built-in battery, so it doesn’t need to suck the juice out of your laptop (for a while, anyway), provides touchscreen abilities (they’re growing on me) and you’ve got multiple ways to send a video signal into it offering a lot of versatility.

The only real negative for me with this monitor is that I wish it came with some kind of pen that would let me use it as a graphics tablet for applications like Photoshop or give me more precise control than my fingers can provide in something like DaVinci Resolve when trying to select colours or mask things out.

Other than that, though, I have no complaints about it at all, really. It’s slotted right into my workflow and I’ve as I said, I’ve been using it almost daily on both my desktop and laptop for around a month now and it’s behaved flawlessly.

If I had to buy the ASUS MB169C+ over again, would I do it? After having given the INNOCN PF-15 Pro a good workout over the last few weeks, no, I wouldn’t. I’d get this instead. The price difference between the two isn’t that big for the extra that you’re getting. Built-in battery (this is a big one for me), good colour, contrast and viewing angle (also important for photo and video stuff), stereo speakers and a touchscreen UI easily make it worth it.

The INNOCN PF-15 Pro is available to buy now for $349.99, and INNOCN has provided DIYP readers with an extra 15% discount by using the code PF15INNO on checkout which should be valid until the end of February 2022. There’s also currently a further $50 Amazon discount running for Black Friday, bringing your total down to $247.49 but that Amazon discount probably won’t last for very long.

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